China's snap Covid-19 lockdown crimps beachside business, strands tourists

Workers set up a makeshift hospital in Beihai, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, on July 18, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - A Covid-19 outbreak has derailed what is usually the peak season at one of China's top summer hot spots, with a snap lockdown in the seaside city Beihai shutting hotels and leaving more than 2,000 tourists stranded at one point.

The outbreak in the southern city of 1.83 million people nestled into a curve of the South China Sea near Vietnam has grown to over 1,400 cases as of Thursday (July 21). The first case was detected a little more than a week earlier, on July 12.

Officials shut down its most populated districts and halted arrivals and departures from the popular island destination of Weizhou, located 45km off the coast, on July 17.

The health codes for some tourists were turned to red, meaning they couldn't go anywhere. Others couldn't book flights or trains to leave the city.

The situation in Beihai shows that despite recent fine-tuning of China's Covid Zero policy - such as reducing the quarantine period for inbound travellers - snap lockdowns and mobility restrictions based on health codes continue to make travel a gamble for residents and create hurdles for local businesses.

Both are part of the zero tolerance approach in China, which reported 880 new local infections for July 21.

Sadly familiar

It was a dreaded yet familiar experience for one Shanghai woman surnamed Liang, who had recently endured nearly three months of lockdown in the Asian financial hub as officials struggled to contain a Covid-19 outbreak there.

She said she was looking forward to a relaxing holiday on a beach over 1,600km south following the ordeal, but made it only a few days before the virus flared in Beihai. Ms Liang's health code turned red, leaving her trapped once again, according to a video she shared on Douyin, the Chinese version of Tiktok.

Having previously survived an extended lockdown, Ms Liang knew to act quickly. She ordered groceries online, enough for a week, and had them delivered to the guest house where she was staying. She also swopped to a room with a refrigerator and borrowed kitchenware, she said in the video.

Although frustrated, Ms Liang said in her video that she doesn't regret her trip to Beihai. She's enjoying the view from her room of the ocean, which she can see but cannot touch.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, more than a month after the lockdown there ended, the city continues to find cases, reporting 18 for Thursday.

Financial fallout

In the first week of July, Beihai was one of the top 10 most popular travel destinations on Tujia, a Chinese rental platform similar to Airbnb. But hotels have had to return more than 12 million yuan (S$2.5 million) to customers due to cancellations and full refunds ordered by authorities, the city's market regulator said in a July 19 statement.

Covid-19 disruptions have had a major impact on local business, a staff member surnamed Wu from the Gaiting guest house in Beihai said. They had to cancel all bookings and refund customers, who all left as of Wednesday, she said.

The establishment is now being used to accommodate health care workers from a nearby hospital as part of a close-loop system, but the limited income doesn't fully make up for the lost tourism revenue.

Ms Wu now mostly spend her days cleaning and tending to plants. There isn't much to do as she, and the rest of the city, waits out Covid-19.

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